MEXICO CITY, MEXICO — With shouts of “down with brands,” “they want your money, not your rights” and “pride is not sold; pride is defended,” dozens of protesters united on Paseo de la Reforma, one of the most important avenues in Mexico City, to symbolically shut down promotional vehicles. It was June 24, and thousands of people had congregated for the 2023 Pride March.
Bloque Disidente — a movement that brings together organizations, collectives, activists and members of civil society to fight for the rights of those in the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and others) community — organized the protest against the exploitation of the Pride March to achieve a better business image. As a result, some brands have reexamined their participation in the event and their role in combating discrimination.
“The brands are overshadowing the real purpose of the march. All the attention is on the brands: what they’re going to do, what famous people they’re going to bring, what show they’re going to put on, what they’re going to give away, how their floats will be decorated. And the media focus on the brands, too,” says Victoria Sámano, founder of LLECA, an organization that supports people in the LGBTQ+ community who are experiencing homelessness.
Sámano participated in the protest to shut down the motor vehicles, double-decker buses and portable stages that brands and government agencies use for giveaways and to showcase celebrities. According to a press release from Bloque Disidente, of which her organization is a member, these vehicles are part of an “insidious pinkwashing strategy for the purpose of turning a profit.”
Pinkwashing refers to a business strategy of showing support for the LGBTQ+ community, but with the goal of sprucing up the company’s own image. Its actions may not align with that support.
Mar García, GPJ Mexico
This is why members of Bloque Disidente are demanding that the Pride March be commemorated as a protest targeting the discrimination that takes place against people who identify as part of the LGBTQ+ community, not as a party. Representatives from some brands decided to participate with the protesters, listening to their social outcry.
“My feeling was much more that the struggle is the issue,” says Estef Palacios, a sexologist and representative of Prudence, a brand of condoms. “The issue of the LGBT community really is something that continues to be harshly persecuted and punished by society. We truly need to take action, and that was a lovely way to do it.”
Diana Macías, director of a Mexican hot-air balloon company called Vívelo en Globo, participated in the Pride March for the first time this year. She says she was invited to do so because of her business’s nondiscrimination policy.
“They invited us to participate because, ever since we opened, when people from the community would make a reservation, they would often ask us if we had any problems with serving people who are gay, homosexual, trans women, etc. And, no, we’ve never made that distinction. Many people told me there are companies that didn’t serve them,” she says.
Although Vívelo en Globo gave special discounts during the month of June, Macías says the company’s inclusion efforts are permanent. So, she empathizes with the protesters who are calling out those who only seek to promote themselves. “I think that, more than supporting the community, it’s for the brand’s own benefit, and the rest of the year, it’s ‘I’m not paying attention to you. I won’t even take you into consideration,’” she says.
A ‘sui generis’ protest
According to the Ministry of Culture in Mexico, the first Pride March in Mexico City was recorded in June 1979. The goal was to make two demands: an end to discrimination toward people who identify as homosexual, bisexual and trans; and recognition of the rights of people who belong to the LGBTQ+ community. These demands have been getting lost, says LLECA’s Sámano. She points out that, of all the marches and protests held each year in the Mexican capital, the Pride March is the only one at which brands have a presence.
In 2023, approximately 250,000 people attended the event, and the revenue was estimated to have been at least 1.2 billion Mexican pesos (over 67 million United States dollars).
“What’s happening in CDMX [Mexico City] is very curious. We know it’s the capital of the [Mexican] Republic. It garners a lot of national and international awareness. It ends up being a business that makes millions for people who get involved,” Sámano says.
At the end of March, over 40 organizations with a focus on LGBTQ+ rights gathered to improve how the march is organized. One issue they discussed was the use of motor vehicles. Their presence at the march was reduced from over 160 in 2022 to 60 this year.
Against this backdrop, the brand presence at the Pride March has opinions divided. Yahir Zavaleta, regional coordinator at Diversxs, an Amnesty International project made up of young people from the LGBTQ+ community, doesn’t want to exclude brands — he wants them to promote inclusion year-round.
“We believe that [brands and businesses] fit in there, as long as that participation, that visibility and that commitment [to the LGBTQ+ community] is appropriate,” he says.
Brands: From making merry to taking action
Even though “many businesspeople or private agencies took a step back when they found out there would be no motor vehicles,” Zavaleta says, other brands demonstrated their commitment.
Mar García, GPJ Mexico
“We adapted to the new rules, and it helped us to learn something new, which is that we have to be more involved in the fight,” says Palacios, the Prudence representative.
Roberto Báez, a public relations and communications expert, says the participation of brands that promote inclusion policies throughout the year could be beneficial in not just spreading awareness about discrimination against the LGBTQ+ community but also combating it.
“Companies often have a very significant marketing muscle, and I believe that, when put toward supporting a social cause, in this case the rights of the [LGBTQ+] community, it can be beneficial in growing visibility,” Báez says. “If groups and organizations have strong visibility, I think it can be enhanced through good relationships with brands.”
Meanwhile, Martha Calderón, public relations director for Escuela de Diseño de Modas Alessandra Farelli, which has locations in Mexico City and the State of Mexico, says fostering a relationship with the LGBTQ+ community allowed the school to learn about Kenya Cuevas and her story. Cuevas is an activist and advocate for the rights of trans people. Now, the school is taking steps to collaborate with her to deliver courses in fashion design for trans women.
Calderón expects the school to be present at the 2024 Pride March as well. “I would like to participate again with a sewing machine design,” she says, “to convey that fashion is for everyone and does not label people.”